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Supporting left-handed children

Finding out a child’s hand dominance as soon as possible will help you best cater for their needs.

If you are right-handed you may not have given much thought to the subject of hand dominance before. Being in a right-handed world, we tend to take certain things for granted and don’t necessarily appreciate what it is like for things to be back to front! Even such simple things like wind-up toys are designed for right-handers!

Although it is a very right-handed world, there are benefits to being left-handed! It is the right hemisphere of the brain which controls the left side of the body, and the right hemisphere is dominant for music, art, creativity and even genius!

In your toddler group, you may well have children who are at either end or at any part along the handedness spectrum – they could be dominantly left-handed, dominantly right-handed or somewhere in between. It is important to find out their hand dominance as soon as possible so that you can allocate appropriate resources and update your team as to the child’s hand/eye/foot preference. Resources will be things like scissors, and when doing arts and crafts it is helpful to sit a left-handed child where they will not be knocking elbows with a right-hander.

Some parents may not actually be sure as yet what hand dominance their child has. With some toddlers, like our son, it is easy to tell and can be noticed at a very early age. Our son is dominantly left-sided, i.e. left-eyed, left-handed and left-footed! We could tell this at a very early age; we would put him in his high chair and even if we put the spoon as far to his right as possible, he would still transfer it to his left hand and feed himself with his left hand.

First, check with the parents whether they have noticed whether there is any particular hand dominance. If they haven’t and if you are unsure, there are some simple activities you can do which may help to work this out. You can give the child a kaleidoscope or toilet-roll holder and ask them to look through it. The child would generally put it to their dominant eye. Be a little bit wary though, as this is not a fool proof test: one can be left eye dominant but right-handed or the other way round. This is termed ‘cross lateral’. It is worth being aware of this as children who are cross lateral may find hand/eye coordination takes longer to achieve. Such children appear to be a bit clumsy or un-coordinated.

As far as hand dominance is concerned, put an item in the middle of a tray or table and note which hand the child picks it up with and which hand they find most comfortable to use. If you find that they swap from one hand to the other, just keep a note of your this and see if a pattern appears. One of our son’s friends was about six years old before his hand dominance was truly confirmed, so for some children it can take a while.

If it is natural for the child to use their left hand, it is NOT advisable to make them change. (Just try doing any simple task in your less dominant hand and you will appreciate the problem!) Simple techniques for left-handers to use will make all the difference and encouraging the child with good habits at an early age will undoubtedly help them.

Mark and Heather Stewart’s new book, ‘So you think they are left-handed’ is due to be published soon by Robinswood Press. With help and guidance for parents and those who work with children, as well as cutting and pre-letter formation activities, it will available via their web site at www.leftshoponline.co.uk.

 For queries or advice, please contact Mark or Heather Stewart by tel/fax on 01905 25798 or by email at info@leftshoponline.co.uk.